We test the first and last of the 250 triples

Two gen­er­a­tions of Kawasaki 250cc triples go head to head

Classic Bike (UK) - - Contents -

B ack in 1972 Kawasaki dropped a bomb­shell into the 250cc class. Their new 250cc of­fer­ing – re­plac­ing the Samu­rai twin – was some­thing spe­cial. At a time when most 250s were worka­day sin­gles, or twins at best, the S1 triple must have seemed glo­ri­ously ex­otic. Three cylin­ders and three ex­haust pipes made won­der­ful, unique mu­sic while the 249cc en­gine pushed out a claimed 32bhp and was good for close to the magic ton. Styling mir­rored that of the 750cc H2, and if ever a bike de­served to take the 250 class by storm surely this was it.

Eight years later, hav­ing gained a front disc brake and a few pounds in weight and lost 4bhp, the last of the line of 250 triples from Kawasaki limped out of deal­ers’ show­rooms hav­ing been first eclipsed by a new breed of su­per-fast light­weight twins in the shape of Suzuki’s X7 and the Yamaha RD250LC, then dealt a mor­tal blow (in the UK at least) by the new 125cc re­stric­tion on learner rid­ers. In 1981, un­sold stocks of the last B5 models of the KH were be­ing of­fered for as lit­tle as £250. It was an in­glo­ri­ous end for a brave con­cept – and what is a very fine bike. Back in the day, the KH250 was the butt of many a dis­parag­ing com­ment – its rid­ers fa­mously de­rided for hav­ing sin­gle-fig­ure brain cell counts. It was tarred with the same brush as Kawasaki’s big­ger triples in the han­dling stakes and its re­li­a­bil­ity was con­stantly called into ques­tion.

Of course, most of those dish­ing the dirt had never owned or even rid­den a 250cc Kawasaki triple.

Those who had knew they were on to a good thing. And to­day, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, it’s ob­vi­ous that most of the abuse was en­tirely un­jus­ti­fied. What the Kawasaki triple brought to the 250 class was glam­our, re­fine­ment and a wel­come whiff of ex­cess.

Now, nearly 40 years af­ter the last few bar­gain­base­ment KH250S smoked self-con­sciously out of Kawasaki deal­er­ships, a grow­ing num­ber of clas­sic bike fans are start­ing to ap­pre­ci­ate the mer­its of these lit­tle bikes. And we’ve brought a pair of them – a 1974 S1-B and a last-of-the-line 1980 KH250-B5 – to South York­shire to see what the grow­ing fuss is about.

1974 S1-B

This bike be­longs to S-se­ries spe­cial­ist Si­mon Lis­ter, who runs Kawasaki triples parts sup­pli­ers Triple Parts. Fel­low triples nut Neil Mccal­lum bought the bike a few years ago in We­ston-su­per-mare, got it run­ning and took it to the an­nual Triples Club rally, where Si­mon spot­ted it and re­alised it was a rare, gen­uine UK mar­ket S1-B. “I al­ready owned a 1972 model, so this one re­ally ap­pealed,” Si­mon says. “My pas­sion is for the 250s, so I did a deal with Neil and bought it. It won ‘Best Rat Bike’ at that rally, but it looks a bit dif­fer­ent now.”

In­deed it does. You’d be hard pressed to find a bet­ter

‘AT THE HEART OF THE S1 IS A SMOOTH YET PUNCHY THREE-CYLIN­DER EN­GINE WITH A 120° CRANK’

ex­am­ple than this Candy Green 250. Si­mon has re­stored the bike over the last four years and it’s only re­cently gone back on the road. “I gave it the works,” Si­mon smiles. “I stripped it, got the crank re­built, pow­der coated the frame, pol­ished the en­gine cases and got the ex­haust sys­tem rechromed. It’s the orig­i­nal ex­haust for the bike with the cor­rect stamp­ings for the year. That was one of the things that at­tracted me to the bike in the first place. It was scruffy, but it was so orig­i­nal.”

Si­mon’s S1-B sits in the mid­dle of the S1 se­ries. The orig­i­nal 1972 model – sim­ply des­ig­nated the S1 – was the most pow­er­ful 250 triple Kawasaki ever pro­duced. And, with its Pearl White paint­work (red was an op­tion in some mar­kets) and H1-in­spired graph­ics, the S1 of­fered a claimed 32bhp to the learner rider and a top speed a shade short of 100mph. It was unashamedly all about per­for­mance – just like Kawasaki’s big­ger triples and, though Kawasaki’s UK dis­tri­bu­tion net­work was no match for ri­val Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha set-ups, the deal­ers sold all they could get of the new model. For 1973, the S1-A must have seemed some­thing of a come­down. Port­ing, jet­ting and si­lencer re­vi­sions brought power down to 28bhp and the gold, blue or or­ange colour op­tions must have seemed scant con­so­la­tion to speed-crazed learner rid­ers. The fol­low­ing year’s S1-B was re­deemed by the gor­geous Candy Green paint­work and there were mi­nor re­vi­sions to the rear shocks, seat and choke lever (moved to the left-hand ’bar). The fi­nal S1 model, the S1-C, ap­peared for 1975 – of­fered solely in the un­ro­man­ti­cally named Hal­ibut Blue colour scheme – af­ter which the 250 triples were re­des­ig­nated as KH250S.

At the heart of the S1 is the smooth yet punchy three­cylin­der en­gine with its 120° crank. It’s the first thing that im­presses me on the road. Si­mon has only had time to put a hand­ful of miles on the bike since fin­ish­ing it, so I’m ul­tra-con­ser­va­tive with the revs, but the smooth­ness of the S1 en­gine is re­mark­able. Short-shift­ing through the five-speed gear­box, each ra­tio clicks into place

pos­i­tively and, with just a sub­dued rasp from the stock si­lencers, it feels a very so­phis­ti­cated 250. I’m sure once the bike is run in, a dif­fer­ent side of its na­ture will be lib­er­ated, but for now it’s a model of ci­vil­ity.

Si­mon has got the twin-lead­ing-shoe front brake set up per­fectly too. It cer­tainly doesn’t lose out on power or feel com­pared to the disc on the later KH250 and the rear drum is qui­etly com­pe­tent, too. At the rel­a­tively mod­est speeds dic­tated by the freshly-re­built en­gine, the han­dling proved ex­cel­lent.

Don’t be­lieve the old scare sto­ries about Kawasaki triples. Si­mon’s S1-B is smooth, civilised and will doubt­less prove as fast as most of its con­tem­po­raries. What’s more, it’s a great look­ing bike that’ll turn heads any­where. That sounds like rea­son enough to own one.

1980 KH250-B5

The last of the line, this un­re­stored B5 is owned by Paul Whit­taker, who bought it seven years ago. “I bought my first KH250 28 years ago,” the Lan­cashire-based welder and fab­ri­ca­tor re­veals. “I hated it. I picked it up from Doug Hack­ing Mo­tor­cy­cles in Bolton and rode it home, but that was about it. I never used it again. But when I met Si­mon (Lis­ter) about 10 years ago, he got me ex­cited about triples again. Now I own at least one of each ca­pac­ity – and I’ve still got that first one I owned, too.”

Paul is a lot more en­thu­si­as­tic about KH250S these days. “I love the 250,” he agrees. “It’s only small, but it just keeps go­ing. They’re bombproof. It’s pretty nippy up to 70mph. I rode it to the Clas­sic TT the year be­fore last and I haven’t re­ally had to touch it since I bought it. It had fresh paint­work when I bought it and I’ve just kept it tidy. I’ve got re­stored bikes, but this one is a reg­u­lar rider. There are plenty of KHS about, so parts aren’t a prob­lem. It’s just a fun bike to ride and that ex­haust makes it sound faster than it is.”

Cer­tainly, the KH se­ries are the de­fin­i­tive learner triples from the big K and KHS sold in their thou­sands. They share most of their DNA with the ear­lier S1s, but they re­main more af­ford­able and eas­ier to find. The first KH250 was the 1976 KH250-A6. This short-lived model re­tained the twin-lead­ing-shoe front brake of the S1-C it re­placed, but it was it­self su­per­seded by the disc-braked KH250-B1 – avail­able in Su­per Red or Sky Blue – later that same year. In 1977, power dipped yet again, to 26bhp, on the Wine Red or Ori­ent Blue KH250-B2. The 1978 B3 vari­ant was the first of the line to ap­pear in Kawasaki’s trade­mark Lime Green (Cobalt Blue was also an op­tion) and there was a re­designed seat and new brake mas­ter cylin­der. For ’79, the B4 model fea­tured Lime Green or Clas­sic White paint­work and black side pan­els, while the fi­nal B5 ver­sion, for 1980, was only of­fered in Rac­ing Lime

‘THE KH SHARES DNA WITH THE S1 BUT IS MORE AF­FORD­ABLE AND EAS­IER TO FIND’

‘THE FUN FAC­TOR IS WHAT THESE 250 TWO-STROKES ARE ALL ABOUT ’

Green with a ‘KH’ logo ap­plied to the side of the seat. By 1980, though, the KH250’S per­for­mance had been eclipsed by the Suzuki X7 and new Yamaha RD250LC. Kawasaki knew the two-stroke era of dom­i­na­tion was over; what re­mained, though, was the char­ac­ter of the triple – and no amount of tech­ni­cal progress could re­place that for some rid­ers. Rid­ers like Paul Whit­taker.

Paul’s bike looks like a typ­i­cal KH250 might have done in the early ’80s. It’s a per­fect coun­ter­point to the cat­a­logue-cor­rect restora­tion of Si­mon’s S1. Though the KH hasn’t been re­stored, the paint­work is new and the exhausts are a lovely set of pe­riod af­ter­mar­ket items by Cod­nor Light Man­u­fac­tur­ing – the fore­run­ner to Mi­cron. The blow-formed ex­pan­sion cham­bers look per­fect on the Rac­ing Lime Green bike, while the crisp crackle from the ‘si­lencers’ tempts me into the power­band – which starts at around 6500rpm – just to turn up the vol­ume and hear the ex­haust note har­den.

The en­gine spins up de­light­fully and, even though there’s de­cent torque on tap low down in the range, it’s more fun to get the mo­tor spin­ning in the power. Hit 6000rpm, shriek up to 7500rpm, change up, re­peat.

The rel­a­tively long wheel­base (1375mm) gives sta­ble and pre­dictable han­dling, es­pe­cially with mod­ern tyres. But, be­cause the KH is so com­pact, it never feels like hard labour to change di­rec­tion quickly, ei­ther. Ground clear­ance is likely to be the only lim­it­ing fac­tor gov­ern­ing just how far you can push the lit­tle triple.

But it’s the fun fac­tor that 250 two-strokes are all about – and the KH250 cer­tainly de­liv­ers that. It’ll prob­a­bly hit 85mph, it’s small enough to chuck about and ac­cel­er­a­tion is rapid enough to bring a smile to your face – and you re­ally can’t say fairer than that. As Si­mon Lis­ter says: “I love all the triples, but the 250s are what we all had in the day. Nail the arse off them and they love it. They’re made for revving.” Quite.

S1-B carb jet­ting robbed it of a lit­tle power

Asym­met­ric ex­haust is Kwak triple trade­mark

Smooth and so­phis­ti­cated (the S1-B, not Gez)

‘They all seize on the mid­dle pot don’t they?’ Not nec­es­sar­ily

Lay­out of the clocks and warn­ing lights on the S1 is sim­ple and clean

Lime green paint screams ‘Kawasaki.’ Ex­pan­sion cham­ber pipes just scream

LEFT: S1 and KH rid­ers’ eye views are very sim­i­lar

TOP: Black rear mud­guard on the KH dif­fers from S1

ABOVE: KH’S disc front brake is a de­cent stop­per

ABOVE: With sim­i­lar per­for­mance, it all de­pends which shade of green you pre­fer...

Lights, cam­era... the bike’s the star

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